Lyrically Speaking: Bob Marley's 'War'
There was a time in the mid-’80s when I lived and breathed for Bob Marley tunes. I was in college when the reggae great died in 1981, and, soon after, his tunes were all I played on my car cassette player. I went through phases of which Marley album was my favorite: “Catch a Fire,” “Exodus,” “Rastaman Vibration,” “Natty Dread,” “Uprising,” and, the one I still go back to today, “Survival,” which, to me, is filled with his most powerful writing.
His legacy is made up of a tremendous and inspiring collection of songs –– from “No Woman No Cry” to “Lively Up Yourself,” “Jammin’ ” and so many more.
To pick out one Marley song as a favorite is very tough, but the one that stands out to me is one that he actually didn’t pen the lyrics to. “War,” from the album “Rastaman Vibration” and recorded blisteringly live (and segued into “No More Trouble”) on “Babylon By Bus,” is an angry rebuff to the prejudices and social issues facing the world. The lyrics are actually part of a 1963 League of Nations speech written for Haile Selassie I, a messiah figure to Rastafarians, in which he calls for equality and peace for all.
The lyrics in “War” follow a portion of the speech word for word, calling for an end to prejudice: “That until that day/ The dream of lasting peace/ World citizenship/ Rule of international morality/ Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued/ But never attained/ Now everywhere is war – war.”
Put to the hard-chugging beat of Marley and the Wailers’ rhythm, it stands as one of the great protest songs. When Bob spits out: “That until there no longer/ First class and second class citizens of any nation/ Until the colour of a man’s skin/ Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes/ Me say war” … I’m right there, fist in the air, marching next to him.
What’s amazing to me is this song continues to feel relevant… which I guess means that the world has not lived up to finding answers to “world citizenship.”
Note: You may remember that this was the song that Sinead O’Connor sang when she was booed off “Saturday Night Live” in 1992 when she tore up the picture of the Pop.. Ben Harper and Lauren Hill both have sung this song in concert as well.
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior And another Inferior Is finally And permanently Discredited And abandoned – Everywhere is war – Me say war.
That until there no longer First class and second class citizens of any nation Until the colour of a man’s skin Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes – Me say war.
That until the basic human rights Are equally guaranteed to all, Without regard to race – Dis a war.
That until that day The dream of lasting peace, World citizenship Rule of international morality Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, But never attained – Now everywhere is war – war.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, In Mozambique, South Africa Sub-human bondage Have been toppled, Utterly destroyed – Well, everywhere is war – Me say war.
War in the east, War in the west, War up north, War down south – War – war – Rumours of war.
And until that day, The African continent Will not know peace, We Africans will fight – we find it necessary – And we know we shall win As we are confident In the victory
Of good over evil – Good over evil, yeah! Good over evil – Good over evil, yeah! Good over evil – Good over evil, yeah!